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Search information

As a student and researcher at a university, you need to have knowledge of how information is created and disseminated, and how to find scientific sources. This becomes increasingly important as information is created at an ever-faster pace and with varying quality. On this page you will get information on where and how you can search.

Workshops in information searching

To provide background and support your arguments in academic texts, you need to make an informed selection of relevant sources. Here you will learn how to search for information in an efficient and structured way. After having done your searches the next step is to critically evaluate your sources.

Where do you find information?

The library provides access to databases and search tools. There are also many freely available databases and search tools. Your information need determines which database or search service you should choose. In some cases, there are databases specifically focused on your subject. For more comprehensive searches, it may be good to search in several databases. Click on the dropdown list below to get an overview of different types of databases and search tools and their content.

List of all the databases you have access to through KTH Library ​​​​​​​

Primo - the library search tool

Primo is the library's search tool where you can find both printed and electronic material. In Primo, you'll find:

  • Books and e-books
  • Articles
  • Journals
  • Dissertations

See our guide to Primo ​​​​​​​

Search in the library search tool Primo ​​​​​​​

How do you find information?

To search in a structured way, you need to master general search principles and techniques. These can be used in most databases and search tools. Understanding how databases work will help you search more efficiently, and you can feel more confident in having found what has been written about your subject. Sometimes finding a single article is sufficient, and in that case, you don't need to conduct an advanced search, although it's always good to consider the keywords you use.

Contructing a search

In the video below, you will see how to construct a search with keywords based on a research question. If you prefer text over video, you can scroll a bit further down the page where you can read about the search techniques used in the video. The video is in Swedish, but you can choose to turn on English subtitles.

Improving a search

Even if you have made a thorough search, you often need to go back and make changes. Maybe one of teh search terms yields a lot of irrelevant hits, or makes the search too narrow. In this video, you'll learn how to improve a search that has not worked out so well. The video is in Swedish, but you can choose to turn on English subtitles.

From research question to keywords

Start by formulating your research question. Then identify the keywords that are central to your question. See the example below.

Search example

Can universal design contribute to sustainable urban development?


Can universal design contribute to sustainable urban development?

Authors don't always use the same words, so it is essential to think of alternative words and synonyms. What synonyms can you find for your keywords?

Translate your keywords into English or other relevant languages.


• Universal design, inclusive design, design for all

• Sustainable, sustainability

• City space: cities, urban

Finding suitable keywords and synonyms can be challenging. Dictionaries and encyclopedias can be helpful.

If you already have an article on the topic, you can look at the words used in the title, abstract and keywords and use them in your own search.

Example of an article record in the Web of Science database

In this example you can see that there are some alternative terms to sustainable and urban development such as smart city planning, sustainable urban forms and eco-cities.

Post from Web of Science. Relevant search terms can be found in abstract and keywords.

Some databases have subject heading lists. With the help of these, you can find out which words are suitable for searching information on your topic. The subject headings lists are often available under the caption Subject headings or Thesaurus.

In most databases, you can't search the fulltext of the documents. The searches are performed in information about the article, somtimes called metadata. For subject searches, title, abstract and keywords are the most relevant fields.

Search technique

Here are some tips on search techniques that work in most databases and that will help you get the most out of your search.


Use an asterisk (*) to include different word endings.

A search for architect* retrieves records including architects, architecture and architectural.

This can be useful to include different grammatical forms of a word, such as ecology and ecological.

Phrase searching

If you are searching for a search term consisting of several words, it may be helpful to put quotation marks around the words to keep them together. For example, searching for "climate change" within quotation marks will only retrieve hits where the words stand next to each other. This way you exclude results where the words "climate" and "change" occur separately.

Combine search terms with Boolean operators

You can narrow down or expand your search by using AND or OR. In the illustrations below, each circle represents a search term. The blue parts represent what is found in the different searches.

Two overlapping circles illustrating what is found with the search "city planning" AND sustainab*.

AND is used to limit your search. Searching for "city planning" AND sustainab* will only retrieve documents containing both search terms. In most databases, the search terms you enter are combined with AND unless you specify otherwise. The left circle in the picture represents all documents containing the term city planning, and the right circle represents all documents containing words starting with sustainab. The blue area in the middle where the circles overlap represents the documents containing both terms and therefore found in the search.

Three overlapping circles showing what is found in a search using the boolean operator OR

OR is used to broaden the search. Searching for sustainab* OR environment* OR green will retrieve documents containing at least one of the search terms.

The three circles in the picture illustrate three different search terms. The blue parts show what is found with the search sustainab* OR environment* OR green, that is, all documents containing one or more of the search terms.

Search String or Search Strategy

You can use both AND and OR in the same search. For example, if you're interested in finding sources about the legal aspects of self-driving cars, the search could look like this:

("self-driv*" OR "autonomous vehicle*") AND (legal OR law*)

When combining search terms in this way, you find documents containing any of the search terms in the first parenthesis and any of the search terms in the second parenthesis.

When both AND and OR are used in the same search string, you must use parentheses in order to control how your search will be interpreted, as we have done in the example below. Since it's not standardized in which order the database performs AND and OR, a search like:

“self-driv*” OR “autonomous vehicle*” AND legal OR law*

could be interpreted as, for example:

“self driv*” OR (”autonomous vehicle*” AND legal*) OR law*

resulting in search results containing "self driv*", and other results containing law*, and also results containing "autonomous vehicle* AND legal*". ​​​​​​​